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February 21, 2015 3:15 PM   Subscribe

What are some fun, computationally intensive tasks for my new computer to do?

I just got a new computer and I feel like making it work really hard. What are some things to do? Assume I can program, and that I can install most languages, libraries, and software packages (including MATLAB and Mathematica). 4 cores, NVIDIA GPU. I'm leaving this deliberately broad, but here are some loose criteria (all of which are optional):
  • doesn't require too much investment in specialist libraries or domains of knowledge
  • results are pretty, lots of colors
  • learning how to do it might be somewhat educational
  • if results not visual, they are interesting on their own terms
It has already occurred to me to draw a very, very high resolution picture of the Mandelbrot set, but I was hoping you all would have something more original. Do not limit yourself to rendering mathematically interesting bitmaps!
posted by vogon_poet to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:35 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well rendering. Perhaps look at blender which has a direct python interface and build interesting mathematical images and then animate them, either by the basic 3d transforms or code changing elements per frame. Math example link. Add interesting surface surface textures and some non-trivial lighting elements and you'll have few lost cpu cycles and an alternate home heating source. :-)
posted by sammyo at 4:23 PM on February 21, 2015

Similar to Chocolate Pickle's suggestion, is SETI@home.
posted by Beti at 5:13 PM on February 21, 2015

If you want to be more hands-on than Folding@Home, there's, in which you play protein folding as a game. They've found that a practised human can often do better folding than the pure number-crunching of Folding@Home.
posted by clawsoon at 5:31 PM on February 21, 2015

The game Dwarf Fortess involves an intensive simulation of a society and ecology detailed enough that in nearly every case it drags the computer to its knees as the game progresses and everything becomes more complicated. The game's standard user interface is notably abstract and non-pretty but tools exist for rendering the resulting landscapes and dwarven metropolises as 3D images.

(So, you could fiddle around with Dwarf Fortress or a similar game, or throw together your own large-scale agent-based modeling simulation.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:58 PM on February 21, 2015

Povray! Back in the day I always used to measure the speed of my shiny new computer by timing the render of the classic chess scene. These days you can find much more impressive sample scenes to render and learning how to do your own is not too hard.
posted by Poldo at 6:34 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mandlebulb Fractal 3D imaging. Some movies here.
posted by Sophont at 8:10 PM on February 21, 2015

Stitching panoramic images (you'll have to go take some, first, but it's a lot of fun).

Rendering stuff with Terragen.

Running gorgeous and intensive graphics benchmarks.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:45 PM on February 21, 2015

(Python bindings for POV-Ray)
posted by BungaDunga at 9:46 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since you have an nVidia display card, there are a swarm of impressive graphics demos at the nVidia web site.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:54 PM on February 21, 2015

Along the same lines of Folding@Home and SETI@Home, there's BOINC.
posted by neushoorn at 11:10 PM on February 21, 2015

Playing some graphics-intensive games on full resolution.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:25 AM on February 22, 2015

You can generate vanity addresses for Tor hidden services. No colorful pictures, but I think it's cool :)
posted by floatboth at 2:20 AM on February 22, 2015

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